‘In so far as taste can be changed by one man, it was changed by Roger Fry’ – Kenneth Clark.
Back in the early twentieth century Roger Fry (1866-1934) almost single-handedly managed to make Britain fall in love with French Modern Art. Less known for his own paintings, he is most remembered as an art critic. Between 1906 and 1911 he was the Curator of Italian Old Masters paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During that period he discovered work of Paul Cèzanne and had something of an epiphany. He abandoned his beloved Old Masters, and became a devotee and promoter of Post-Impressionism. He actually coined the term Post-Impressionism to describe the art born after Impressionism. In 1910 he staged his seminal exhibition entitled ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ at the Grafton Galleries, London. Later that exhibition became to be known as the ‘Art Quake of 1910’. At the time, the general public was not entranced, many visitors were reportedly mocking the colourful paintings by Gaugin, Van Gogh and Cèzanne, all of whom are now considered as an essential part of the modernist art canon.
Despite the largely unpleasant reviews and reactions, Fry was undeterred and staged another Post-Impressionist show at the Grafton Galleries in 1912. Both the 1910 and 1912 exhibitions were rather controversial with the public, but the first encounter with the French Avant-Garde art proved to have a colossal effect on many British contemporary painters who saw the shows. Among them were Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Both painters, along with Fry, were members of the Bloomsbury Group (London group of writers, intellectuals and artists in the first half of 20th century, another famous member was the writer Virginia Woolf, Bell’s sister).
The small exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery titled Art Quake: Post-Impressionism and British Art made up entirely of the artworks owned by the gallery revisits Fry’s ground-breaking exhibitions. Many painters who saw them instantly fell in love with the way Post-Impressionists depicted the world around them. British painters include Mark Gertler, Walter Sickert, Matthew Smith and last but not least Fry himself. Fry’s Landscape in the South of France was clearly influenced by Cèzanne, whose work is also on display nearby.
In the exhibition of 1912, works by contemporary British and Russian artists were shown alongside those of French Avant-Garde artists, such as Seurat, Matisse and Picasso. In the current exhibition paintings and drawings of the French artists from the Pallant House collection are displayed alongside British painters who were inspired by them.
Matthew Smith studied under Henri Matisse in Paris. Matisse’s influence on his art is undeniable, as attested by the painting Reclined Nude (Vera) (1924) modelled by the painter’s lover Vera Cunningham.
Samuel John Peploe, the acclaimed Scottish Colourist was inspired by the French Avant-Garde art, but Fry did not include him in his second exhibition, (although his works were on display at the Stafford Gallery during that time). Many critics thought Peploe and other ‘Stafford Fauves’ deserved a place in Fry’s show, so it is nice to see Peploe’s Still Life included in the Pallant House exhibition.
The exhibition is laid out in a single room in the old part of the building, which allows the viewers to give an undivided attention to each painting in a relatively short amount of time. This is often not possible in large blockbuster exhibitions, where crowds are moving fast from one artwork to another before getting a chance to look at art properly. As expected, Pallant House Gallery has done a very good job, providing a fresh perspective on perhaps less known episode from British modern art history.
Art Quake: Post-Impressionism and British Art exhibition is at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, UK (9 February – 1 June 2019)
Exhibition website: https://pallant.org.uk/whats-on/art-quake-post-impressionism-and-british-art/
 Roger Fry, biographical note and note on Post-Impressionism in Oxford Dictionary of Art & Artists
 note on Bloomsbury Group in Oxford Dictionary of Art & Artists
 gallery labels